College hoopsters asked to play defense without hands

Before the college basketball season started, coaches were unhappy. Imagine that athletes would have to learn to play defense with their feet and not their hands. How radical is that?

Back when I was growing up (I know, that?s a long time ago), coaches always taught us to play defense without using our hands, because if we didn?t, it was almost always called a foul.

Over time, the game changed and players were allowed to use their hands more, resulting in some very physical basketball games. How rough? Well, let?s just say some college basketball games began looking like football minus the helmet and pads.

After the Louisville-Villanova Big East quarterfinal last season, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said that, if teams were flagged for penalties as they are in football, both teams ?would have been backed up to their own end zones.?

Louisville coach Rick Pitino compared some games last season to semi-rugby.

But many high-profile coaches didn?t mince words about the new emphasis on hand checking before the season began.

SMU?s Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown said: ?I think it?s scary.?

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger predicted ?tons of fouls, a lot of free throws, long, ugly games.?

KU coach Bill Self said some college games will be fragmented and resemble free-throw shooting contests. ?I don?t think that makes for a better game?,? Self said.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said ?people don?t want to watch free-throw shooting contests.?

Of course, the new rules don?t have to lead to free-throw shooting contests.

Critics of the renewed emphasis on hand checking presuppose that players can?t learn to play defense without using their hands. If players were smart enough to figure out how to use their hands without getting called for a foul, don?t you think they can learn how to play defense without holding the opponent?

Today?s student athletes are more athletic than ever before, so they should be able to adjust and move their feet to play defense. It takes more effort, but if players don?t adjust and are in foul trouble, they?ll find watch the game from the sidelines like the rest of us.

As a basketball official, I?m interested in seeing if college officials will continue to call hand checking from January through March. They will if the powers that be support officials who call the hand-checking fouls.

Curtis Shaw, coordinator of officials for several major conferences, said the way games will now be officiated will better accentuate the unprecedented athleticism throughout the sport. He acknowledged that the early part of the season would be a growth period which will require breaking bad habits.

Ohio State coach Thad Matta said the rules will most likely affect poor perimeter defenders who can?t move their feet as well as more skilled defenders.

Give some of the student athletes higher marks than the coaches in how they?ve responded. Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft said: ?I just have to do my best to show my hands as much as possible? I can be obnoxious about it, too. I can put my hands behind my back if they really want.?

Oklahoma State?s Marcus Smart said he isn?t concerned about the hand checking emphasis because if ?I can stay in front of someone for 94 feet, why can?t I stay in front of them if I give them a cushion??

If you?re a fan of a more athletic game of basketball, you should applaud the attempt to clean up the game. If you prefer physical basketball with a lot of holding and grabbing, you won?t.

Shaw, who has officiated more than 1,500 games, made it clear that simply touching a ball handler will not result in a foul. But placing two hands on a ball handler, continuing to jab him by placing a forearm on an opponent or using an arm bar to impede the progress of the dribble will be called fouls.

When I officiated a small college basketball some time ago, a player complained about a hand-checking foul called by my partner. I like my partner?s response: ?Even I can play defense if you let me hold like that.?

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